Extremism and fanaticism in any of their numerous manifestations is never ideal. Even our most noble quality as humans – love cannot be excessive; for excessive love breeds obsession which is a negative quality. The ideal position in any instance is to be moderate.
These two words above are in inverted commas because they can be pushed to extremes in both cases and hence engender negative results. In our ‘New Gambia’ words have come to mean different things from what the originators intended for them to mean. Critics are whiners and supporters are sycophants, but we will stick to the two terms or supporters and critics to avoid controversy although there is some truth to both definitions.
What we hear a lot of in our discourse is how ‘blind support’ breeds tyranny and how we are constantly reminded that failure to criticize the current establishment will see a return to the Jammeh days of tyranny. There is some truth to that but it is not the whole truth, and half-truths are as dangerous as lies, if not more so. The opposite – excessive criticism, borderline whining could breed the same and even faster; here is an example.
“It’s frankly disgusting that the press is able to write whatever they wanna write, and people should look into it.” – President Trump
“Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged, and if appropriate revoked. Not fair to public [sic]’ – President Trump
The president of the United States, the “greatest democracy” according to some, that we all aspire for our various nations around the world to be like, recently made these statements regarding the press, or “Fake News” as he calls them due to non-stop criticism of his policies and even ridicule sometimes. The First Amendment of the U.S constitution clearly states that Congress shall not make any laws that abridge freedom of speech or of the press. Whatever one thinks of the man and his presidency the above statements points to one fact about to be highlighted.
People like to be respected and treated fairly. This need for respect is so embedded in our nature that some will beat it into you if they have to; for with respect comes dignity and disrespect is demeaning. Now this is not to say criticism is a sign of disrespect, far from it if the criticism is constructive. That is to say criticism meant to make better by offering alternatives but not one made from the perspective of I told you so; an ego booster meant to give the impression that one thinks them self or their choice better than the person being criticized or his choice. That kind of criticism is demeaning and condescending, devoid of substance.
If the United States, like all thriving democracies around the world does not have strong institutions like the kind needed to safeguard democratic gains and protect people’s rights, the president is sure to curtail press freedom and the associated freedom of expression just because he feels he is undeserving of the ‘criticism’ he receives daily. This amongst other issues typifies what the South African comedian, Trevor Noah meant when he jokingly labeled Trump, “…The perfect African President.”
With democracy still in its trial phase in most African countries, it is not unlikely that presidents wield enormous powers and effectively take control of all aspects of the nation state. Now this is by no means gratifying such tyranny or calling for its imposition, but it is evidence pointing to that innate human need to be valued, respected and treated with dignity. The curtailment of freedoms in Africa especially is partly due to corruption but party due to that deep seated African value that elders must be respected even if they have to beat that understanding into you. Now imagine a person with state power and machinery behind him feeling disrespected and is desirous of commanding the respect he thinks he deserves; Yaya Jammeh anyone?
On the opposite extreme end is sycophancy; the deliberate attempt that fail to see any wrong even when staring you in the face. You see, the two extremes need each other to survive; they feed off of each other. The extremists who constantly criticizes and who sees no good no matter how obvious, without thinking some ulterior motive is responsible for that good behavior. Such a stance invites the extremist from the other side to come defend that good action. When in fact a wrong is done, the extremist on the supporting side finds an excuse for it, that invites the extremist from the opposing side to come up with the “you see, we told you so” position; and on and on it goes. In between is the moderate observer, although biased towards one end, he/she is objective enough to see the facts and whichever side the facts leans towards, he/she becomes the darling for that side and hence is bundled and labeled by the opposing side as one of those on that side; a sycophant or a whiner (sellout).
Nelson Mandela is probably the most praised leader of our age; but did he turn into a tyrant, no. You can credit that to the ‘democratic’ (used sparingly considering apartheid) space in South Africa or to age. Whatever it is we know he has an upright character typical of a genuine African, especially one advanced in age. That sincerity of character, in my opinion is the single most important factor that determined his uprightness and his success in shaking off the temptations and entrapments of power, relinquishing it when he did; in dignity and eternal adoration. Otherwise, he had an opportunity to bask in the love of his people and the world and rule for life.
Now I am not comparing Mandela to anyone (a crime by new Gambian standards), but it is safe to say that a person’s character and inner self worth determines their actions more so than the environment they find themselves in. But certainly, a good trigger to bring out the opposite of their good nature is the feeling of being disrespected and undervalued within that environment.
“Hani baa naa dewung ta, akka king dirro kelleh.” A goat may bite if cornered and frustrated.
Truth is we are not always privy to all the factors that motivated a person’s decision or choice as opposed to other choices. In the game of sports, say football (the rest of the world kind of football) for example, the coach is needed to guide the players to a win because he sees the game from a perspective that the players can’t. He is essentially a critic. With all their skills and training, the players need the coach’s guidance. And with all his past experience and training as well, he cannot match the efforts of the players if put on the field, there he gets exposed to a different reality than what obtains from the sidelines. In the lyrics of the legendary Mutabaruka; “Wen ya not in pawa…, it is easy to say dis and dat; but wen you have pawa it is very different, a different sanky you have to sing.”- From the track People’s Court.
So let’s remember we the citizens are the coaches and our goal is to bring home the trophy. The fans lauding the players on the sidelines and booing the opponents are on the same side as the coach, just playing different roles. The cheering enhances performance through positive reinforcement. Let’s be moderate in all that we do, especially when we ‘criticize’ people; not in the criticism itself when it is warranted but in the tone of it. And let us always strive to make each other better not to bring people down or to massage one’s ego. Positive reinforcement helps more in improving performance, so don’t be afraid to praise when an action is praiseworthy. If we do that, Gambia dina dem!